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Human telomeres and telomere biology disorders.

Authors: Sharon A SA. Savage
Published: 07/04/2014, Progress in molecular biology and translational science


Telomeres consist of long nucleotide repeats and a protein complex at chromosome ends essential for chromosome stability. Telomeres shorten with each cell division and thus are markers of cellular age. Dyskeratosis congenita (DC) is a cancer-prone inherited bone marrow failure syndrome caused by germ-line mutations in key telomere biology genes that result in extremely short telomeres. The triad of nail dysplasia, abnormal skin pigmentation, and oral leukoplakia is diagnostic of DC but highly variable. Patients with DC may also have but numerous other medical problems, including pulmonary fibrosis, liver abnormalities, avascular necrosis of the hips, and stenosis of the esophagus, lacrimal ducts, and/or urethra. All modes of inheritance have been reported in DC and de novo mutations are common. Broad phenotypic heterogeneity occurs within DC. Clinically severe variants of DC are Hoyeraal-Hreidarsson syndrome and Revesz syndrome. Coats plus syndrome joined the spectrum of DC with the discovery that it is caused by mutations in a telomere-capping gene. Less clinically severe variants, such as subsets of apparently isolated aplastic anemia or pulmonary fibrosis, have also been recognized. These patients may not have the DC-associated mucocutaneous triad or complicated medical features, but they do have the same underlying genetic etiology. This has led to the use of the descriptive term telomere biology disorder (TBD). This chapter will review the connection between telomere biology and human disease through the examples of DC and its related TBDs.

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